* Turkey has purged hundreds of top military staff
* NATO's top commander raises concerns with Ankara
* Turkey has NATO's second biggest armed forces
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, Dec 7 NATO's top commander said on
Wednesday he did not believe Turkish personnel sacked from NATO
command were involved in July's abortive coup and has raised his
concerns with Turkey about the impact on its armed forces.
Curtis Scaparrotti, a U.S general who is NATO Supreme Allied
Commander in Europe, said some 150 military staff, or half of
the Turkish military under his command at NATO, had been
detained, recalled or retired from the alliance after the July
15 coup attempt.
Asked if he thought they might have been involved in the
planning of a coup, Scaparrotti said: "No ... These officers
served well here in NATO."
"I have a concern about what happened to the people who were
working for us," he told reporters following a meeting of NATO
foreign ministers, saying he had raised the issue with the chief
of Turkey's military General Staff.
"I've said to General (Hulusi) Akar, my concern is that they
would follow the rule of law and treat their people
appropriately," Scaparrotti said, adding that Akar had promised
he would "personally look into their welfare".
Reuters exclusively reported in October that Turkish
authorities had dismissed hundreds of senior military staff
serving with NATO in Europe and the United States following
July's coup attempt as part of a wide-reaching security
clampdown that has raised human rights concerns.
Last month a sacked Turkish general assigned to NATO in
Germany told Reuters the government's purges were inflicting
deep long-term damage on NATO's second biggest military.
Scaparrotti, who is expected to continue in his role under
the new U.S.. administration, said the impact of the purges was
"noticeable", adding that the group most affected tended to be
experienced senior officers who often played a role in training.
So far, about 75 Turkish military personnel have been
replaced at NATO and some posts are still open, he said. The
Turkish air force has been particularly hard hit as many pilots
are suspected of involvement in the coup and are now in custody.
Western countries stress that Turkey remains a crucial NATO
ally and they have condemned the July 15 putsch. But they have
also pressed Ankara to respect the rule of law as it seeks to
root out suspected coup plotters from its military.
Canada's Foreign Minister Stephane Dion said he had
expressed his country's concerns over the scale of the purges to
his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at Wednesday's talks.
"As a friend, we are asking Turkey to stay faithful to the
universal values that we share," he said.
Ankara says the scale of its crackdown is justified by the
gravity of events on July 15, when rogue soldiers commandeered
tanks, fighter jets and helicopters, bombing parliament and
government buildings in their attempt to seize power.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Gareth Jones)